erik lundegaard

Stefan Zweig's Laments About His Time Speak to Ours

Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was inspired, so the credits say, by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an early 20th century Austrian writer of whom I had read approximately zilch. So during our recent trip to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg, I brought along his memoir, “The World of Yesterday.” Appropriate. Zweig grew up in Vienna and lived in Salzburg, and it was fun reading Zweig's thoughts about places we'd visited the same day. 

What caught me by surprise about the memoir, though, was how often his time, and all that was lost by 1941, speaks to ours, and all that we've lost by 2014. Particularly in matters of politics. 

Stefan Zweig The World of YesterdayThere's this, for example:

... even the political and social movements [of the 19th century] were free of the terrible hatred which has penetrated the arteries of our time as a poisonous residue of the First World War. In the old Austria they still strove chivalrously, they abused each other in the news and in the parliament, but at the conclusion of their ciceronian tirades the selfsame representatives sat down together in friendship with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, and called each other Du.

I've heard the same from many U.S. politicians about Congress after the 1994 midterms. 

Zweig adds:

One did not look down at tolerance as one does today as weakness and softness, but rather praised it as an ethical force. 

Political parties (often represented by flowers) sprang up everywhere (like wildflowers). Violence was expected from the socialists (red carnation) but came the German National Party (the blue cornflower), which, weak in the city and strong in the countryside, feels reminiscent of today's Tea Party:

... the German National Party had its followers in the Bohemian and Alpine border districts: weak in numbers, it compensated its unimportance by wild aggression and unbridled brutality. 

My favorite bits, though, thus far anyway, tend to be non-political: how Zweig and his gymnasium friends found and adored writers like Rainer Marie Rilke and Paul Valery before the cultural establishment; and how Zweig ignored his dull schoolwork so he could read exciting new writers like Frederich Nietzsche.

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Posted at 06:24 AM on Tue. Jul 08, 2014 in category Books  


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